Detroit police arrested a suspect in one of three homicide cases in 2005, a stark decline from previous years and far below other major U.S. cities and the nation’s average, reports the Detroit Free Press. Also well below the average is Detroit’s 1-in-3 ratio for clearing homicides — charging or identifying the killer. Experts cite the apparent end of police dragnets, the illegal practice of rounding up large groups of potential witnesses and suspects for questioning, for much of the drop in arrests. Experts also blame a homicide section decimated by budget cuts, more drug-related slayings in which witnesses are less likely to talk, and slipshod handling of evidence and investigative files in several high-profile cases. Police in other cities with populations more than 250,000 made arrests in about half of homicides in 2005. Nationally, the arrest rate in homicides was about two arrests for every three cases — double Detroit’s rate.
Once acknowledged among America’s investigative elite, Detroit homicide cops were invited to help solve the Atlanta child killings of the late 1970s and early ’80s, and were portrayed as shrewd sleuths in Hollywood films and books by Elmore Leonard. Tn recent years, the downsized unit has suffered humiliating setbacks, many self-inflicted. It has lost reports and files, been implicated in bogus confessions, and has seen the demise of the discredited dragnets. With the national rise in crime and drug use, more homicides are unplanned, seemingly random and involving victims with shady associations and witnesses loathe to cooperate. “With drugs, people are not inclined to go to police,” said Andrew Karmen, criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “With little cooperation, you get a rising number of unsolved cases. Police are absolutely dependent on the public for information and to testify as witnesses.”